First there was those crazy Mario Brothers. Then video game fanatics saw they're much-loved, karate-chopping pastime Mortal Kombat flash on the silver screen. Now Dungeons and Dragons aficionados have even more reasons to rejoice to their D&D gods.
The classic role-playing, fantasy-adventure game arrives in theaters Dec. 8 -- with nearly three decades of past and current D&D players ready to flock to national theaters to watch it. With a reported budget of $36 million and backed by proven executive producer Joel Silver ("The Matrix," "Die Hard," "Lethal Weapon"), "Dungeons and Dragons" is sure to get the high-profile treatment to match the legions of anxious D&D fans.
Starring Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch ("American Beauty"), Marlon Wayans ("Scary Movie") and Justin Whalin ("The New Adventures of Lois and Clark"), among others, the film is the tale of a rag-tag group of adventurers seeking to foil the plans of an evil wizard.
But like the aforementioned games, it's not the first time a popular kids' game has become a feature film, nor will it be the last. Paramount's "Tomb Raider," starring Oscar winner Angelina Jolie and due in theaters next summer, is based on the popular video game featuring a buxom female adventurer named Lara Croft who can be described essentially as a female Indiana Jones in shorts and with breasts (and less stubble). The film's script reportedly takes off where Tomb Raider III -- the video game -- left off.
Is Hollywood running out of ideas? Or are studios trying to cash in on the popularity of video games? A little of both, some say.
"When you have a property or a game or characters that prove to be popular in another entertainment medium, there's always a filmmaker or a studio that will try to translate those characters on the big screen," says Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. "The hope is that you'll carry over the audience from that video game to the box office."
That attempt isn't always fruitful. "Super Mario Bros." (1993) was a box office stinker, grossing a mere $20.9 million. The trick is to produce a film that not only appeals to game's aficionados, but also to the public in general. If studios can entice both sectors of the market, they've got a recipe for a successful film.
Such was the case with "Mortal Kombat" (1995) and " X-Men" (2000), each grossing $70.5 million and $157.3 million, respectively. "X-Men" made $54 million its opening weekend and although it didn't originate from a video game, it's a good example of a film that lured non-X-Men fans to theaters, Dergarabedian says.
"Dungeons and Dragons" distributor New Line Cinema is banking on the games' 25-year history and popularity to bring in the hordes of D&D fans -- as well as their spending cash. Consider the following:
The game is one of the best-known fantasy titles and has generated more than $1 billion is sales worldwide, including publication of more than 400 novels. D&D products have been translated into 18 different languages and toy maker Hasbro is about to launch a 25th anniversary line of D&D products, just in time for the holidays and the film's release, of course.
"For millions of people worldwide, Dungeons and Dragons has been the penultimate fantasy game for more than 25 years," says Mark Ordesky, president of Fine Line Features. "This film will deliver for die-hard fans as well as those who have never been exposed to this epic world of magic, sorcery and adventure."
Whether "Dungeons and Dragons" fares well at the box office is still to be seen. But the studio and the marketers behind the film have their work cut out for them, says Dergarabedian.
"The main factor is getting the fans of that property (D&D) to embrace the movie. It's a tough audience because you have built-in expectations and preconceived notions of how certain characters should be translated to the big screen."
Does the female sex sell?
Judging from "Charlie's Angels" $75.4 million take in two weeks, the answer is a definite ... maybe.
The Drew Barrymore - Cameron Diaz - Lucy Liu starrer has overcome its infamous casting, script and $90 million production woes to become a bonafide hit. Milking its combination of cleavage, kung-fu fighting and Diaz's dance moves, "Charlie's Angels" urged moviegoers to "get some action," which they did, taking a strong summer for women and kicking it up a couple notches.
Once upon a time -- er, last spring, actually -- the Island of Moneymaking Girl-Power Movies only had one survivor: Julia Roberts. Sandra Bullock is in career rehab, Jodie Foster's a hit-or-miss. Meg Ryan and Michelle Pfeiffer owe half their box office draw to their huge male co-stars, while Sharon Stone is banking on "Basic Instinct 2" to revive her appeal. And Demi Moore ... well, that $12.5 mil for "Striptease" seems like a looong time ago.
Sounds bleak? Maybe not. The summer, while producing some of the weakest movies in recent memory, has managed to power up some hits with female-heavy marquees. Devoid of huge budgets, these films waited patiently while Tom, Mel, Eddie, Jim and Harrison duked it out before making their marks. Examples:
"Bring It On" Costing just $10 million, this comedy about a cheerleading competition bested Wesley Snipes' "Art of War" and knocked off Jennifer Lopez's "The Cell" (see below) to claim the top spot with $17 million in late August. Boasting no marquee names (it stars Kirsten Dunst, Gabrielle Union and Eliza Dushku), the film showed surprising legs (no pun intended) and has gone on to gross $67 million to date.
"The Cell" Jennifer Lopez became the highest-paid Latina actress in 1996 with her $1 million leading role in "Selena." "The Cell" put her in Virgin Mary robes, black bodysuits and a Hannibal Lecter muzzle contraption (is that moving up? We're not sure.). Audiences, intrigued either by the movie's visuals or Lopez's derriere in those tight outfits (or both), bit the first weekend, giving the $33 million thriller a $17.5 million opening. "The Cell" eventually tapped out at $61 million or so -- not a blockbuster, but enough to give Lopez a foothold for her next flick's salary negotiations.
"Coyote Ugly" Girls dancing to Rob Base on top of a bar in tight jeans, splashing water on themselves and serving beer. Lather, rinse, repeat. Touchstone Pictures' marketing department knew what it was doing when it hyped the ogling quotient and fierce-grrrl message ("tonight they're calling the shots") in trailers rather than its cheesy "Flashdance"-inspired story about a wide-eyed girl (Piper Perabo) who works at the bar Coyote Ugly while she launches her songwriting career. It barely earned back its $45 million budget (it's grossed about $60 million), but that still ain't bad for a film with a baffling title and no names (just faces) above the marquee.
And here's a peek at female-driven films to look forward to: "102 Dalmatians" -- Opens Nov. 22. Sequel to the 1996 film, which made about $137 million. Glenn Close looks to score again as memorable madwoman Cruella De Vil.
"Miss Congeniality" -- Opens Dec. 22 in New York. FBI agent Sandra Bullock has to tweeze her eyebrows to go undercover at a beauty pageant. Bullock's last film, the alcoholic comedy-drama "28 Days," languished at about $38 million, but she should shine here in a quirky role, supported by "The Cider House Rules" Oscar winner Michael Caine.
"Sugar and Spice" -- Opens Jan. 26. Mena (Suvari), Marley (Shelton), Marla (Sokoloff) and Melissa (George) are a bunch of cheerleaders who go on a crime spree. Isn't that cute?
"The Wedding Planner" -- Opens Jan. 26. It's Jennifer Lopez again, this time going for a Sandra Bullock-esque role as the title character, falling for the groom (Matthew McConaughey) of the wedding she's coordinating.
And let's not forget 2001's other offerings: "Bridget Jones's Diary," aka The Movie Renee Zellweger Gained Weight For; the Drew Barrymore starrer "Riding in Cars With Boys," directed by Penny Marshall; and next summer's ultimate girl-power gig -- Angelina Jolie as buxom archaeologist Lara Croft in "Tomb Raider," based on the popular video game.
Get some action, indeed.
Actress Lara Flynn Boyle can't seem to resist Jack Nicholson's star wattage.
After allegedly dumping the Oscar-winning actor last month, Boyle appeared solo at the Emmy Awards and was seen mingling with Bruce Willis at a post-party.
But her interview in Talk magazine's November issue returns the couple to shaky but on-again status.
"He's the chief, right?" says the reed-thin star of "The Practice." "What else is there to say? It's not bad sleeping with Einstein [her nickname for Nicholson]."
Boyle goes on to gush even less convincingly. "I'm in love with love. ... I mean, you hit a certain point when why would you spend a certain amount of time with somebody if you weren't?"
Why indeed. And you thought Hollywood stars were superficial.
With an Oscar nomination and a couple of Golden Globes, what more could Angelina Jolie possibly want for her career?
Answer: To personify grrrl power in the form of cyber-femme fatale Lara Croft.
Tomb Raider Today's Daily Variety says the actress is in final negotiations to play the virtual vixen in Paramount's feature adaptation of the interactive game "Tomb Raider."
A little "Tomb Raider" background for readers outside of the, say, 15-to-24-year-old boy bracket: Lara Croft is a publishing magnate-turned-female action-adventurer whose repertoire includes anthropological discovery and traveling to exotic locales in a tight leotard, shorts and a sports bra. As make-believe people go, Croft is fairly powerful, with an international fan base as massive and dedicated as any for a real-life celeb like, well, Angelina Jolie. (Actually, Croft's club is probably bigger.)
But before you start to merge the two entities -- Croft and Jolie -- you might want to know that there have been some contradictory reports about casting for the big-screen flick. In the new Entertainment Weekly, "Tomb Raider" director Simon West ("Con Air") says he sees Lara being played by an anonymous nobody rather than by a Hollywood starlet. As West told EW: "We don't want to ram a Hollywood star into this thing, because Lara is visually [known]."
No reaction from West on the news about the Hollywood starlet (i.e., Jolie) circling his project. Also not much reaction yet on the Web from dedicated "Tomb Raider" fans.
Angelina Jolie To be sure, the casting of Croft has been a topic of online debate for months. Just take a look at the fan site "The Lara Croft Page" (http://network.ctimes.net/cb/lara/index.html). Along with a list of criteria that the actress who plays Lara Croft should meet (No. 1: "She must be a beauty, of course."), the site's movie section also promotes a series of suitable candidates who have been rumored to be up for the role. Among the mentions: Diane Lane, Demi Moore, Elizabeth Hurley, Catherine Zeta-Jones and even Jennifer Lopez.
Where's Angelina Jolie? Nowhere.
But not that it matters. A little Oscar buzz has apparently taken care of that.
HIT OR "MISS"? Director Donald Petrie ("My Favorite Martian") is in talks to helm "Miss Congeniality," the latest project for suddenly hit-challenged star Sandra Bullock, according to Variety.
In "Miss," Bullock will play an FBI agent who goes undercover as a beauty pageant contestant in order to stop a terrorist bombing. Not based on a true story.
MEOW: Teen movie vets Shannon Elizabeth ("American Pie") and Jerry O'Connell ("Scream 2") are slated to co-star in -- hey! -- another teen movie. The new one's a comedy called "Tomcats," Variety says. To be directed by Gregory Poirier, the film revolves around a group of friends who wager on who'll get married last. Not to be confused with any other teen movie involving a bunch of friends and/or a wager.